C IMON had the misfortune to lose his parents at so early an age that his education was seriously neglected, and he became in consequence a very immoral young man. But he was blessed with a noble, generous disposition, besides other good qualities, which led to his becoming later in life the ablest general of his day. He was as brave as Miltiades, his father, his judgment was considered as good as that of Themistocles, and he was more upright and honest than either. Cimon was a handsome man, being tall and well built, and he possessed what was looked upon as a great adornment among the Greeks of his time, a profusion of thick curls that covered his head and fell around his neck.
Miltiades left an unpaid fine, which his son felt bound in honor to settle, but he had not the means, and was sorely puzzled where to turn for them. It was his sister Elpinice who helped him out of the difficulty in this way. Callias, a rich Athenian, wanted to marry her, but could not get Cimon's consent; however, he secured it by promising in return to pay the fine, and so it was arranged.
When the Medes and Persians invaded Greece, Themistocles urged his countrymen to carry all their arms on ship-board and meet the enemy in the straits of Salamis. The Athenians were amazed at this advice, but Cimon immediately went to the citadel with a bridle in his hand, which he offered to the goddess, to show that seamen were needed, not horsemen. Then, taking a shield, he proceeded to the sea-shore, and thus inspired his fellow-soldiers with so much confidence that they did not hesitate to follow him. He distinguished himself at the battle of Salamis, and ever after his countrymen loved and admired him very much, and when he became interested in politics he was preferred to Themistocles. Aristides prized him highly, and did what he could to advance him to the highest offices in the state, knowing that his honesty would prove a safeguard against the deceit and boldness of Themistocles.
When the Medes were driven out of Greece, Cimon was elected admiral, when he immediately set to work to make his seamen superior to all others. He was so kind and good to the allies that without fighting for it he gained the command of all Greece. He then sailed for Thrace with the forces, because the Persians had seized the city of Eïon and were giving the Greeks in the neighborhood a great deal of annoyance. He defeated the Persians in battle, shut them up within the walls of the town, then set upon the Thracians and drove them out of the country to prevent their lending supplies to Eïon. Thereupon Butes, who commanded the Persians, set fire to the town, and burned himself, his property, and all his relations.
So Cimon did not get much booty, but he put the Athenians in possession of the country about, and it was so rich and fertile that it was a good place for them to settle. The people of Athens were so pleased with what Cimon had done that they permitted him to erect three marble monuments, with appropriate inscriptions, in honor thereof. He next went to the island of Scyros, which was inhabited by the Dolopes, a nation of pirates, and took possession of it. That done, he recollected that Theseus, the ancient hero of Athens, had been treacherously killed on the island of Scyros by King Lycomedes, and that an oracle had requested the Athenians to take back his remains and to honor him as a demi-god. So Cimon set to work to search for the tomb, which he found after a long time. He put the remains of Theseus on his own vessel, and took them back to the home that hero had left eight hundred years before.
The Athenians were so gratified to have the bones of Theseus among them that they prepared games to celebrate the return. One feature of the entertainment was the reading of tragedies by Sophocles and Æschylus, two of the best composers of their day. These tragedies were written for this occasion, and it was universally agreed that Cimon should award the prize, though heretofore it had been decided by lot. Sophocles was the fortunate competitor, and Æschylus felt so distressed because he was not successful that he went to Sicily, where he spent the rest of his life.
An interesting story is told of Cimon by an ancient author, who chanced to meet him at a supper given at the house of Laomedon. After the meal Cimon was asked to sing; he amiably complied, and was much praised for his musical talent. Then the guests went further and recounted the various public actions he had performed, until, interrupting them, he said, "You omit the very exploit for which I give myself most credit." "What is it? tell us," urged one after another. Cimon then told the following story:
"When our Grecian allies had secured the prisoners at Sestos and Byzantium they gave me the privilege of dividing the booty. I therefore placed the prisoners in one lot, and their jewels, rich clothing, and arms in another, telling the allies to take their choice, and assuring them that we Athenians would be contented with what they left. Thinking that I had made an absurd division, they naturally chose the pile of costly chains, bracelets, rich gold collars, and robes of scarlet and purple, laughing in their sleeves at me for being satisfied with a lot of slaves, who, being unaccustomed to work, seemed perfectly useless. Not long after, the friends and countrymen of my prisoners offered large sums for their ransom; then I appeared in a more favorable light, for I got money enough for my slaves to purchase at least four months' provisions for my ships and to send a quantity besides to the Athenian treasury." The guests acknowledged that Cimon's management on that occasion was indeed worthy of praise.
In course of time Cimon became a rich man, and he deserved it, for he used his means, as every man of wealth ought to do, in giving pleasure to others. He ordered the fences of his fields and gardens to be removed, so that strangers, as well as his own countrymen, might help themselves to all the fruit and flowers they wanted. A supper of plain but good and plentiful food was spread at his house every evening, and all the poor citizens were invited to partake of it, so that instead of devoting time and thought to money-making they might turn their attention more to public affairs. When he took a walk, Cimon was always attended by a party of young men well clothed, and if they happened to meet an aged citizen in mean attire, one of them was ordered to exchange with him. They carried money besides, which was slipped into the hands of the better class of poor citizens who stood about in the market-place. This was done as privately as possible, so as not to give offence. It was said of the generous-hearted Cimon that he got riches that he might use them, and used them that he might get honor by them. This was the more remarkable, because all the men of his day, except Aristides and one or two others, enriched themselves out of the public money, but to the very end of his life Cimon's hands were clean, and he was never known to do or say anything for the sake of private gain. Once, when a certain Persian revolted from his king and fled to Athens, he sought the protection of Cimon and placed in his doorway two cups, one filled with gold and the other with silver coin. Cimon cast his eyes upon them, and then asked, with a smile, "Do you desire my hired services or my friendship?" "Your friendship, without doubt," was the reply. "Go, then, and take these things back," ordered Cimon; "for if I be your friend, your money will be mine whenever I need it."
Now the time came when the allies objected to furnishing more ships or men for the navy. They said that they were tired of war, and that as they were no longer troubled by a foreign enemy, they preferred to turn their attention to agriculture. But the Athenian generals would not listen to them, and tried to compel them to supply their quota by fines. Cimon, as soon as he was in power, adopted a different course; he took ships and money from the Grecian allies, but forced no man to serve in the army or to pay fines. The consequence was that in course of time they were more fitted for manufacturing and tilling the soil than for war. The Athenians, on the other hand, were compelled to serve on the ships, and became so thoroughly disciplined and so powerful that, instead of being their fellow-soldiers as before, the allies, by their own mistaken short-sightedness, became their subjects. This was when, on account of certain changes, they were forced to pay a tribute or fight, and they had lost all taste for the latter occupation.
No man ever did more than Cimon to humble the pride of the Persian king; for he was not content with driving him out of Greece, but followed him to Asia Minor, and in one day gained a victory by sea that surpassed Salamis in glory, and one by land that outdid Platæa. The Persian army was completely routed, and the king was so humbled that he made the celebrated treaty of peace by which he promised that his army should approach no nearer the Grecian Sea than a day's journey on horseback, and that none of his ships of war should appear between the Cyanean and the Chelidonian Isles.
The spoils of this war were publicly sold, and yielded so much that, besides raising the south wall of the citadel of Athens, the conquerors were able to lay the foundation for the long walls called the Legs. And this was no trifling matter, for they were built on soft, marshy ground, and it was necessary to sink great stones before a firm support could be attained. All this was done out of the money Cimon supplied, and he adorned the city besides. He laid out the fine places of exercise and resort, which became much frequented spots, he planted trees in the public parks, and made of the Academy, a barren, dirty field about two miles north of the city, a delightful grove, with shady walks and an open race-course. Later, the Academy became a favorite resort for philosophers, who pursued their studies there.
The Persians still kept possession of the Thracian Chersonese, but Cimon was sent to drive them out, which he did so successfully that he made the whole of the Chersonese the property of Athens; also the gold-mines on the island of Thasus. This opened a passage for him into Macedon, but that nation being at peace with the Athenians, he returned home without following up his advantage; therefore he was accused of having been bribed by Alexander, the king of Macedon, but he made such an able defence of his conduct that he was acquitted.
His public life after that was devoted to keeping the common people in check, for they wanted to put down the nobility and get the government in their own hands. So long as his power was felt, all went well, but when war broke out again, and he was sent in command of the army, the ancient laws and customs were overthrown, and the populace, with Pericles at their head, insisted upon trying offenders themselves, instead of leaving them to the Court of Areopagus. This state of affairs grieved Cimon when he returned to Athens, but with the leaders to oppose him he was powerless to make any improvements. Besides, he had openly expressed admiration of the simplicity and temperance of the Spartans, and that had, for the moment, rendered him unpopular with his own countrymen.
Just then a most fearful earthquake visited Sparta. The ground opened in great chasms, and every house in the city except five was destroyed. It happened that the boys and young men of the city were exercising in the Portico at the time, but many of them had started in pursuit of a hare an instant before the shock occurred. The building fell, and killed all who were in it.
Archidamus, the ruler of Sparta, foreseeing a still greater danger, ordered the trumpets to be sounded to give an alarm to battle. At this all the citizens flocked about him armed, and it was well they did, for, taking advantage of the dreadful tumult, the Helots flocked in from the fields, bent on murdering the Spartans whom the earthquake had spared. Finding them armed, however, they repaired to the neighboring villages and declared open war. Thereupon the Lacedæmonians sent to Athens for aid, and Cimon was sent with an army. After restoring peace he returned home, but the Spartans had occasion to ask again for the assistance of the Athenian army. But when the Athenians arrived, instead of being received with open arms, they were accused of dishonorable designs, and sent back. Of course they were very angry at such an affront, and declared that they would have nothing further to do with the Spartans. Part of their indignation they vented on Cimon, because he had openly expressed admiration of their new enemy, and so banished him by ostracism for ten years. He soon had an opportunity, however, to prove that he preferred his country to all others, for when the Athenians went to fight the Lacedæmonians at Tanagra he joined them.
The Council of Five Hundred, on hearing that Cimon had joined his tribe, commanded the officers not to receive him: so he retired, after enjoining his companions to fight bravely. They were a hundred in number, and fought in a body until all were killed. The Athenians regretted the loss of such a brave set of men, and began to believe that they had perhaps wronged Cimon; for had he been so good a friend to the Spartans as they suspected, his tribe would scarcely have fought them so desperately. The following spring, therefore, when there was a prospect of another war, Cimon was recalled, because the Athenians loved their country so much that their first consideration always was the public good. He put an end to the war and restored peace between the two cities.
After a while the Athenians became restless, and, fearing that they might begin another war at home, Cimon fitted out two hundred galleys to make an attack on Egypt and Cyprus, wisely concluding that if his countrymen must fight it had better be against their natural enemies. When everything was ready, and the army on the point of embarking, Cimon dreamed that a furious dog barked at him, and mixed with the barking was a horrible kind of human voice, that uttered these words:
This dream was hard to interpret, but a man skilled in the art said that it presaged Cimon's death. "A dog," he said, "is the enemy of him he barks at, and one is always most a pleasure to one's enemies when one is dead; the mixture of the human voice with the barking signifies the Medes, whose army is made up of Greeks and barbarians."
Cimon had another bad omen. When he was sacrificing to Bacchus, and the priests were cutting the animal in pieces, a number of ants took up little congealed particles of blood and laid them about Cimon's great toe. He observed this only at the moment when the priests called his attention to the fact that the part of the liver known as the head was missing,—another very bad sign. Nevertheless, he could not withdraw, and so he set sail.
On arriving at Cyprus, Cimon sent messengers to consult the oracle at the Temple of Jupiter Ammon about some secret matters that have to this day never been made known. It is not known what their question was, but they got for answer "that Cimon was already in the land of the gods."
Without understanding the meaning of what they had heard, the messengers returned to the army, and were surprised to hear that their general had died before they could have reached the temple.
Cimon's remains were carried to Athens and buried with honors, a monument being afterwards erected to his memory.